Discipleship involves a life of realism and sharing - sharing both with Jesus and with our fellow disciples. But how can we share something that we do not know?
We live in a time when the average lifestyle is one focused on the things we do as opposed to things that we are. Less human beings and more human doings. Our society focuses on what we do, how much we achieve and what we accomplish and in light of this we can forget who we really are. Our society is itself shaped by the media we're exposed to, and vice versa, and the media (in all it's shapes and sizes) throws a fantasy lifestyle at us. A lifestyle that can help us forget the hopelessness of the 'real' world. Sooner or later we realise that the world is a much more complex place, and one of three things generally happens - we fall into a dazed apathy, we straight out deny that any real problems even exist or we retreat into a dangerous world of illusion. As Christians, we don't miss out on these feelings, nor do we get to escape reality.
Jesus was a realist.
He had a real life and a real death. He struggled against real problems and temptations and he never sugar coated any realities.
As disciples we are called to this same life of realism, honesty and openness. That means being real with one another. It means taking of our masks and exposing ourselves in order to learn to forgive and accept each other.
Sometimes people might get the impression that all Christian communities are absolutely perfect. That every second passed together is one of joy, peace and love between every member. A heaven on earth! Anyone that's part of a communiy knows that this is not quite the reality. A genuine Christian community is one where it's members are open and real with each other - helping to shatter the dillusioned realities.
Christianity is all about relationship - our relationship with God and our relationship with others.
We are all sinners so we will disappoint each other; we will be deceived and we will deceive but the important thing is that every time we fall we get up. There is no point hiding behind masks of perfection and purity. Jesus constantly called people out on their hypocrisy but accepted the sinners with open arms and forgave them. One of the best ways of checking our own discipleship is by being genuine and open with others instead of hiding behind fake realities. It may be painful, but it will always be fruitful.
A trap that we can fall into nowadays is the idea of being in a community but not being part of the Church. I'm sure most of us have heard some version of the phrase 'I will follow Jesus and be part of a community but leave me out of the Church aspect of Christianity'. Saying something like that is watering down the concept of community to a point where it no longer means anything. In the first century the sense of Christian community for all disciples was so strong and fundamental that salvation outside the church wasn't even considered as an option. Belonging to Christ meant, and still means, belonging equally to his body, the church. This holds even more true in light of the New Testament concept of the church. The church was no longer seen as a building, nor an institution nor an organization but instead as the people of God. This basically means that disciples of Jesus should gain great strength from belonging to one another in Christ.
Let's now look at individual aspects of creating community:
1. Community and the Cross
The true basis for all fellowship is when two or more persons kneel at the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ, trusting wholly in his mercy and love. The moment we admit that we need Jesus in front of each other we are truly able to accept each other in every aspect. Once we understand ourselves in light of the cross we can understand that we're all weak. True fellowship, fellowship that binds our hearts togher in love, starts when we meet at the point of weakness.
In a community it's very easy to fall behind the 'I'm fine' front. People may come and ask you how you are, what are you up to, how are you feeling and our answer is often 'I'm fine' regardless of what is really going on inside. 'I'm fine' is a safer answer compared to what you're really feeling. In the wise words of Jessie J - it's ok not to be ok. We must come to a point of honesty with one another in order to fully experience the depth of God's love.
2. Community, Accountability and Confession
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed James 5 : 16.
When we don't confess out sins we break our bond with God and with each other. We damage the body of Christ. If one member of the community sins the whole body is infected. The only way to restore and heal fellowship is to openly confess our sins and bring them to light. Think of having something like a tooth ache. It's something so small but it impairs your whole body. You can get head aches, you can barely talk - your mind always flits back to your pain!
Here's a curious thing to think about - we find it easier to confess out sins privately to a holy, sinless God than openly to an unholy and sinful brother. This can get us thinking about our intention when confessing our sins that way. Are we really confession to God? Or are we simply confessing to ourselves? This would also explain why we constantly fall back into our old sin. If the only person we're telling is ourself and we're relying on self-forgiveness as opposed to real forgiveness than there's no one to hold us accountable. We should all have someone that we can be accountable to - whether a small group leader or a pastor. It might be embarrassing and difficult to say out loud but in the long run it will make your journey easier.
3. Bearing with one another
Committing oursevles to loving our community members can also make us more vulnerable to hurt and disappointment. It's a harsh truth, but a truth nonetheless. However, in accepting all the faults of others, their annoying habits, their sins we are truly living out the law of Christ to love others. One only has to live with a bunch of people for an extended period of time to realise how far we are from loving like He loved. People might take too long in the shower, they might not clean up their mess in the bathroom or kitchen, they might eat your food, they might fill up the kettle and only make tea for themselves, they might even bite their nails more loudly than you ever noticed. We suddenly become very critical of one another and move far away from loving them completely.
Human love is pretty inadequate when we look at it closely which is why we constantly need to be asking that His love, not ours, might be poured into our hearts.